Attorney General Jeff Sessions urged Congress to pass legislation President Trump outlined earlier this week to make it harder for immigrants to claim asylum in the United States, a process that he says is being widely abused.
In a speech Thursday to Justice Department lawyers, Sessions suggested loopholes created by the Obama administration are unlawfully used by immigration lawyers, a problem that only Congress can fix through legislation.
Session said lawyers for undocumented immigrants who face deportation are using a "credible fear" provision of the law to claim that they have reason to fear for their life if they are sent back to their home country.
Immigration attorneys encourage clients to use "magic words" to trigger that process, Sessions said, and added it's largely been abused.
“Over the years, smart attorneys have exploited loopholes in the law, court rulings and lack of resources to substantially undermine the intent of Congress,” Sessions said.
He noted a New York lawsuit from 2014 which resulted in charges against 30 defendants and eight attorneys for their alleged participation in immigration fraud schemes.
He said lawyers taking advantage of the loopholes have created a surge of legal proceedings trying to justify those claims. The Justice Department and the courts do not have enough resources to respond to those claims, leaving deportation proceedings in limbo.
Eleanor Acer, senior director for refugee protection at Human Rights First, called Sessions' speech an addition to the ongoing effort to paint asylum and refugee seekers as frauds and threats.
"It' s part of a broad policy of the admin to slam the door on them ... and punish those who do try and seek protection," Acer said.
"Credible fear" cases have been on rise since 2009, Sessions said. In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security conducted 5,000 credible fear reviews and by 2016, the number had increased to 94,000, Sessions said.
“The credible fear process was intended to be a lifeline for persons facing serious persecution. But it has become an easy ticket to illegal entry into the United States,” Sessions said.
“Our asylum laws are meant to protect those who because of characteristics like their race, religion, nationality, or political opinions cannot find protection in their home countries,” Sessions said. “They were never intended to provide asylum to all those who fear generalized violence, crime, personal vendettas, or a lack of job prospects.”